by Alina Ponomarova

The National Solo Dance Final will kick off on September 14th in Hyannis, Massachusetts. This competition will conclude the season for solo dancers. For the past six months, skaters have competed to gain points to make it to “Nationals”. The qualifying series of competitions started on March 1st and went through August 15th, with only the six top places in each discipline in each of the Eastern, Midwest, and Pacific sections receiving an invitation to compete in the Final. The National Solo Dance Series began in the 2010-2011 season. This year, for the first time, solo dance competitions were judged using International Judging System (IJS).

Although this is not the first season of the Solo Dance Series, it is still new to many figure skating fans. I wanted to fill the readers in on the short and free dance elements of solo dance programs. Elements in solo dance have to meet certain requirements and also reflect the music and rhythm of the dance. A solo dance program is different from a freestyle program. Not only because the dance program doesn’t contain jumps; the solo dance short and free dance resembles couples dance short and free dance. Solo dancers perform elements and connect them using intricate transitions showing edge quality, expression of music, finesse in movement, quality of details, speed and flow. Since this year’s solo dance competitions were judged using the International Judging System (IJS), skaters could earn levels and grades of execution (GOE). Competitions become more competitive and fierce.  Here are the elements of the solo dance short or free dances for the 2018 season.

1. Pattern Dance Element
The pattern dance is an element of the Junior and Senior short dance. Each year a specific rhythm and pattern dance are chosen, which are the rhythms from the prior season of couples dance. The 2018 season Latin rhythms are rhythms of a short dance, therefore the pattern dances are the Chacha Congelado for Junior and the Rhumba for Senior. Judges look for quality of skating, cleanliness of edges, steps and turns, deepness of edges and correctness of pattern. The pattern dance should be very seamlessly incorporated in the choreography of the short dance, highlighting control and strong technique of the dancer.

2. Edge Element
Like lifts in partnered dance, edge elements are the highlights of the solo dance program. Different kind of spirals, spread eagles or Ina Bauer are performed on edge. The judges look for strong entry and exit of this element and stable and exquisite position. The choreography is made such that this element matches the style and character of the music. There are both short and combination edge elements. Like a lift, the short edge element can’t exceed six seconds and the combination edge element can’t exceed twelve. Additionally, the position has to be held for at least three seconds. So skaters have to count the seconds during these elements. The maximum level that can be earned for an edge element is a level one.

3. Spin
A dance spin is different than a freestyle spin. It doesn’t require specific positions and is judged based on it’s execution. A higher score is given if the placement of the spin fits the phrase of the music, appropriate to the choreography. A spin is also judged on how innovative and creative it is. Just as for the edge element, the maximum level that can be earned in the dance spin is a level one.

4. Step Sequence
The step sequence is a showcase of the skating skills of a skater. Deep edges and clean turns have to be choreographed so that the steps are easy flowing from one to the next, and executed effortlessly. The Juvenile level step sequence is choreographic. Since Juvenile is the first level in which the free dance is introduced, and skaters are still developing their skills, the goal of this element is to highlight performance and connection to the rhythm and music. The step sequence in Intermediate through Senior can earn a level – base, one or two. Execution of the turns is important to earn a higher level, although connection to the character of the music still has a significant value.

5. Solo Twizzles
Seamless and flawless twizzles always look very impressive, although this is the most nervewracking element. Executed correctly, twizzles can earn the highest level of all elements in solo dance – level four. Exquisite connecting steps within a combination of twizzles helps the choreography to amplify musical nuances and accents.

6. Dance Stop
The dance stop is unique and the most creative element. There are almost no rules with regard to this element, except that it has to fit within a certain time frame and meet the requirements of the free dance. Skaters are judged on creativity, originality, relation to the music and execution. This is the place to show your personality and express yourself.

Solo dance competitions have become increasingly competitive and popular among skaters. The Solo Dance Series, created by US Figure Skating, has satisfied a great interest and continues to develop at a good pace. At the beginning of this series many skaters were doing solo dance in addition to synchronized or freestyle skating, focusing for half of the year on one discipline and then switching for the second half of the year to the other. Lately, many figure skaters have focused the entire year on solo dance, which has led to, through competing in only one discipline, earning the highest places in the Solo Dance Series standings. While becoming highly competitive, solo dance competitions have remained fun and enjoyable, giving skaters the opportunity to travel out of town and socialize with their peers. 

Alina Ponomarova is a US National and International ice dance coach and choreographer. She is Professional Skaters Association Certified rated and category five ranked. She holds master degrees in Figure Skating from Kiev National University of Physical Training and Sports, and Ballet from Kiev National University of Culture and Arts. Alina was born in Odessa, Ukraine and now teaches and resides in Chicago, Illinois.